Getting Customer Empathy Right

As business owners, we often make assumptions about our own customers. Most of the time, these assumptions are based on years of experience and seeing patterns of customer behavior.

Sometimes, this works.

We are hired because of our decades of experience, and so we know how to answer questions when when they come up over again. We understand how to decipher client language into a solution that will work, and what the client will be happy with.

Other times, making assumptions can mean missed opportunities.

Making assumptions could lead to solutions that are “good enough” but maybe not the best possible solution. Or our assumption are based on our own behaviors and habits, but not necessarily of those challenges that we’re being hired to solve.

I recently worked with a well-established, generational-owned luxury retailer. They found an opportunity to create a technology-based solution for their customers that would include all parties involved in the home improvement process. It was a genius idea that will eventually disrupt the industry.

After launching, customers found it too confusing to search for the products they wanted, even though the actual technology feature itself was super simple.

The problem? Lack of customer empathy.

The founder designed features based on his own online behaviors and habits. As a result, his customers were spending their money elsewhere because there were more intuitive solutions for them at competitor sites.

Understanding someone else’s perspective, needs, and habits helps us fully understand how to design an outcome that addresses an underlying theme or challenge.

Where is the opportunity to solve problems for the customer, and to provide an overall, great brand experience?

Here’s how the luxury retailer that I mentioned before could have gotten to their own customer empathy path (they didn’t, by the way):

  1. Initially, make assumptions that you can (later) either validate or disprove. This is the very first step of the process and sometimes how a concept is found. However, it’s not where the final solution is found.
  2. Ask, listen, and/or observe. Test your assumptions to see if they’re true or if they’re false and based on your own biases. Do you see themes and patterns?
  3. Document your findings. Roadmap your observed themes/patterns in the form of an overall theme or process. Focus on the client that you’re trying to access. This is where you’ll discover your brand experience through the eyes of your customer.
  4. This is usually where discovery happens, and where opportunities are discovered to provide higher value to the experience. From those opportunities, you’ll be able to find ways for refinement. This is the ultimate opportunity to come up with ideas that enhance enjoyable and positive experiences for the customer.

Any positive experience that you can attached to your reputation as a brand is a good thing.

Once you’re able to discover high value opportunities and attach those to actionable initiatives, then there’s real opportunities to focus on customer empathy.

It’s better to prove you’re wrong than to assume your right. Creating the best solutions means asking the right questions, and staying nimble until you get it right.


Now it’s your turn: How have you gotten customer empathy wrong, and how did you correct it?


I would love to hear from you! Please feel free to leave your thoughts, comments, and feedback in the comments below.

~ Christine